Understanding Your Baby's Quirks

You couldn't love them more, but your 12-pound mega-cutie also does a thing or two that makes you say "Huh?" Here's the reason behind some of their funniest, most adorable little quirks.

twin baby legs
01 of 13

My baby smells so good. What's their secret?

cute baby smiling
Alexandra Grablewski

Two words: no sweat. The apocrine glands⁠—which are found in the armpits, breasts/chest, and groin, and are associated with strong body odor⁠—aren't active until puberty. Also, your baby's scent is familiar to you, so it smells good. Each of us has an "odor print" that's as individual as a fingerprint, according to the late George Preti, Ph.D., a chemist who studied human body odor at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. Some parents can recognize their newborn by scent alone, and scientists think it could be because their olfactory cues circulate in Mom's bloodstream during pregnancy. Early exposure makes the scent appealing.

02 of 13

What's the deal with toe-sucking?

baby sucking toe
Alexandra Grablewski

Your little one learns about the objects around them by putting those tiny toes in their mouth. Nerve fibers in the mouth are more sensitive than those in the fingers; when baby sucks on their body parts they experience a wide variety of fascinating touch sensations, says Ross Thompson, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis. While babies love to suck anything they can get their lips on⁠—toys, TV remote⁠s, receiving blankets—many 4- and 5-month-olds simply find it easier to put their feet in their mouths.

03 of 13

Why do my baby's nails grow so fast?

baby fingernails
Alexandra Grablewski

You aren't imagining it: Your baby's nails are actually growing twice as fast as your own. But there's a simple reason behind it: A child's metabolic rate is higher than that of adults, which means their skin cells (those that make up the composition of their nails) turn over more quickly, says Bernard Cohen, M.D., the director of pediatric dermatology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Remember to keep your baby's nails trimmed so they don't cut themselves accidentally!

04 of 13

Do all newborns startle as much as mine?

baby reaching
Fancy Photography/Veer

All healthy newborns are born with an evolutionarily programmed, involuntary impulse called the Moro reflex. If your baby is startled by a siren, car horn, or other loud sound, they'll fling their arms wide, spread their fingers, and instinctively ⁠grab at something (usually you). Then they'll bring their arms back to their body and relax. "Newborns haven't yet learned to differentiate between common and uncommon noises," explains Richard Polin, M.D., a pediatrician and neonatal care expert at Columbia University, in New York City. As your baby matures, their brain will learn to distinguish between different types of sound and movement, and this primitive reflex will be squelched.

05 of 13

Why does my baby hit or scratch at pictures in books?

baby holding book
Fancy Photography/Veer

They're used to seeing things in 3-D, says Sue Hespos, Ph.D., principal investigator for the Infant Cognition Lab at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois. When your baby sees a 2-D picture, they don't know what to do with it at first. (Can I pick it up? Play with it?) As you continue to read to them, however, their cognitive skills will develop, and they'll stop trying to palm Clifford the Big Red Dog.

06 of 13

What's up with all the hiccups?

cute baby
Fancy Photography/Veer

Hiccups are caused by an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm, though why they occur so often in babies isn't totally known. Some experts think it can happen when babies eat too much or gulp down too much air while eating (something that you may see when the nipple on their bottle is too large, or they find themselves dealing with a gush of milk while nursing). The good news is that hiccups aren't harmful or uncomfortable for your baby, and they will go away on their own.

07 of 13

Why does my baby thump their head on the bed at night?

baby lying down
Fancy Photography/Veer

It's their way of lulling themselves to sleep, says Tanya Altmann, M.D., a Los Angeles-based pediatrician and author of the book Baby & Toddler Basics. While it may look scary to you, it's usually nothing to worry about; in fact, studies show that up to 15% of healthy children do it (though it's three times more common in boys). The thumping typically starts when babies are around 8 months old; only 5% of children will do it for more than a few months. If a child head-bangs after their first birthday, experiences a language delay, or avoids eye contact, talk to your pediatrician.

08 of 13

When I give my baby a bottle, they wrap their fingers around mine. Why?

baby finger wrap
Alexandra Grablewski

It's their way of showing you love. Starting at 3 or 4 months, your baby is able to hold onto your fingers, and they may do it every chance they get. They also get a kick out of hearing your voice, so another great way to bond is to talk or sing to them.

09 of 13

What's causing all that drooling?

baby drooling
Fancy Photography/Veer

Infants have an immature nervous system, and they don't have as much control over their mouths as older children and adults, says Eve Colson, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis. Sure, your shoulder may get soaked when you carry them, but the drool won't last forever: It typically lessens by the end of the first year.

10 of 13

Why does my newborn have "frog legs" when they sleep?

baby sleeping
Alexandra Grablewski

This is one of the cutest quirks, and one of the strangest. It turns out that "frog legs" are a familiar position for your baby. During the first month or two of life, their arms, legs, elbows, and knees will be bent when they doze, much like they were in the womb. As their nervous system matures, their legs will straighten and they'll sleep in a looser position, says Dr. Polin.

11 of 13

Why does my baby love peekaboo so much?

woman playing peek-a-boo with baby
BananaStock/ Jupiter

It makes them giggle! But don't bother doing before they're 6 months old, because they won't be able to pay attention long enough to enjoy it, says Dr. Thompson.

12 of 13

Why does my baby sneeze all the time?

baby girl in jacket with eyes closed

It's a fallback mechanism, says Dr. Polin. Since your little one is too young to blow their nose, the only way they can get rid of mucus, dust, and other irritants stuck in their schnoz is to sneeze. Worried all those ah-choos signal an illness? Unless your baby spikes a fever or has trouble eating, they are probably fine.

13 of 13

Why do my baby's legs make a clicking sound?

twin baby legs

It can be unnerving to hear a noise like that from your baby, but it's probably just sliding tendons. This common phenomenon occurs when soft tissues (tendons) interact with hard tissues (bones). It's actually quite normal for a baby's body to make clicking and popping noises (like the sound of knuckles cracking), especially around the spine, shoulders, knees and ankles. If your baby makes these sounds in their hips, however—and if you hear a "clunk" rather than a "click"—talk to your pediatrician. You'll want to make sure they don't have a congenital hip dislocation, which should be treated ASAP.

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